“You’re back in Wonderland, Alice.” – But this time, things aren’t the same. Things have gone quite mad. You could say that all of the time Alice has been stuck in an orphanage, has only made her more derranged, or at least more cynical. Now we must return to Wonderland, where a train has been seen destroying the imaginative world. Why has this train taken off? What has happened to the laws of Wonderland and more importantly, can we see that amazing Vorpal Dagger once again?
We know it all, we’ve seen it all happen over the last few years so I’ll skip the spiel and get into the heart of the matter. It fails in both directions:
Now the problem here is a matter of timing. Licensed titles are designed to be released shortly before the film upon which they’re based, but because the projects start roughly when the production of the film is well under way it cuts deeply into the production time, leaving us with rushed messes filled with glitches and lacking any kind of innovation as the development team try their hardest to cobble together something that will roughly match the feel of the film or the general themes.
And that’s the other side of the problem. It’s very difficult to take a fixed and flowing narrative and wedge in some interactivity. It’s easier to take the characters and the world that they occupy and put them into a more game-oriented story than it is to try taking a story and gamifying it. For example, American McGee’s Alice took the characters from Lewis Carroll’s surrealist story and made a modern day classic. Telltale’s Walking Dead and Game of Thrones series have both taken the worlds and themes and created original adventures within them.
Uwe Bol may be bringing down the standards, but he’s really only adding to a far larger problem. Paul W.S. Anderson too, but it’s not exactly his fault.
Half of the problem is the exact reverse of the licensed game issue. The appeal of games is the interactivity, and the fact that a game can reveal a great deal more through the hours of gameplay than it can in those periods of time dedicated to story-telling. Much like a book adaptation, much of a game’s content is condensed or removed altogether to allow for time constraints, leaving fans unfulfilled. Doom and Max Payne appear to have suffered most heavily under this issue, both films demonstrated at the very least a respectable attempt at bring their games to big screen, but felt clumsy and lacking (right up until Carl Urban’s FPS scene in Doom).
Worse is the all-to-common issue of the writers, directors and producers not fully understanding the title that they’re working with. Boll may be a travesty of a director but at least he seems to enjoy games, whereas other attempts seem to be cobbling together plot from cutscenes or simply joining dots on what they’ve been told about it.
At least one film has been made that came close to a true representation of the game upon which it was based: Silent Hill. All the key elements were there, the fog, the horror, the themes, even the story came very close, but even that had it’s critical flaw. Where the games created nightmares from the innermost corruption of the main character, the film constructed a narrative where the young girl had created a private hell for those who had condemned her, sending away a better part of herself to drag someone new in so that the audience had someone to follow. Even then, Silent Hill was a good film, and not a horrendous sequel either.
And so to the future! Warcraft has a film incoming, and while we’ve seen promising trailers let us down in the past (looking at you Agent 47) we may yet have the beginnings of a revolution on our hands. It took a long time for the comic book hero to see proper representation on the silver screen, and games have a similarly long burn to get through, trial and error, lots of error, until finally we begin to strike gold.
Sidenote, I think Assassin’s Creed has potential to make a good film, but a lot of other games have had potential and failed hideously. There are some thing Michael Fassbender just can’t fix, and the lousy relationship between video games and films will take more than a couple of successes.